A little over four years ago a group of parents, friends and teachers joined together to think of a way to teach children how to create peace in a world awash with conflict.
From that initial brainstorm, the Columbia Gorge Peace Village summer camp was born.
This Monday, Aug. 8, the day camp opened again to 94 campers, who will join 24 counselors and many adult supervisors for a fun-filled week of arts, games, skill-building and deeper lessons about life.
"We have grown quite a bit since 2008. We started with just 50 campers then," said DeLona Campos-Davis, this year's village co-director and one of the camp founders.
"I think it's pretty fun," said Frances Dickinson, 9, of Hood River, as she downed homemade ice cream while whirling in a hula-hoop frenzy. "It's fun to meet a lot of new friends and do so many activities."
The camp is structured to help children, teens and adult helpers develop tangible ways to create peace in three important areas: within oneself, between people and within the world at large.
"We want to teach how to develop a peaceful heart, peaceful communities and families and a more peaceful world through peaceful practices," said Campos-Davis, who holds a degree in peace studies.
The curriculum of the camp offers a variety of practice opportunities including arts, yoga, writing, music, non-violent conflict resolution, media literacy and earth-conscious behavior. The camp is inclusive of all faith traditions and those who do not practice a faith.
One of the child-geared inventive activities at camp addresses an occasionally serious community problem - those nasty baseball bat-sized zucchinis now found in gardens everywhere. The "vegetable sculpture" zone offers campers a positive, creative solution to that growing problem.
"Just look at all these sharp pointy objects!" yelped Niko Swihart, 9, of Hood River. Swihart was thrilled to be working with sticks, knives and stick-pins used to create the veggie creations.
Meanwhile, the craft also offered the adult supervisors a chance to teach Swihart about being care-filled with things that might cause harm to others, an on-target peace lesson.
The camp has worked to develop simple, engaging activities which lead to discussions about world resources, sharing, mindfulness, working together toward goals and respecting differing ideas.
"A single activity can help a child learn ways to feel more peaceful inside themselves - while it may help another learn how to get along better with their peers," said Campos-Davis.
This year's youth counselors are almost all returnees or former campers who have grown enough to pass along their experience to others.
"This is my second year," said Patrick Sadil, a HRVHS graduate now at Reed College. "I really like being part of this."
The campers range in age from 6 to 13. At age 14, teens may apply to become junior counselors. The Mosier Community school hosts the camp each summer.
Many organizations and individuals have stepped up to support the camp's ideals. According to Campos-Davis, sponsors include: Hood River County Faith Connections and Commission on Children and Families, Providence Hood River Memorial Hospital, Bethel UCC, Spiritual Assembly of the Baha'is, Mid-Columbia Unitarian Universalist Fellowship, Riverside Community Church, Gorge Ecumenical Ministries, Mount Adams Zen Buddhists, Columbia River Fellowship for Peace, Azure Standard and Hood River Sewing and Vacuum.